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The Struggle for Israel’s Sou

Michael Freund, The Jerusalem Post
April 28, 2004

For a nation that rightly prides itself on its humane treatment of its enemies, Israel needs to start taking a long, hard look at how it treats its own citizens.

This coming Sunday, the fate of some 8,000 Jews will hang in the balance, when members of the Likud cast their ballots on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal to withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria.

It is a vote laden with significance, in political as well as diplomatic and strategic terms, one whose outcome will have far-reaching repercussions, both locally and on the international scene.

But amid all the debate and discussion regarding the various aspects of Sharon’s proposal, there is one key question that has been largely ignored: what kind of society is Israel becoming?

After all, it is not every day that a liberal Western democracy considers the mass expulsion of thousands of its citizens from their homes, barring them from living in a certain area because of their ethnic and re.

Nor does it happen very often that an entire community finds its right to exist called into question, thereby implying that it is somehow less legitimate or less equal than others.

Put aside for a moment your thoughts about the wisdom of Jews living in Gaza, and consider this: what does it say about a society when it is willing to countenance the forcible eviction of Jews?

And how does such a possibility mesh with the age-old vision of Zionism, or the modern day conception of the individual’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

The vote this Sunday, then, is more than just a referendum on Jews living in Gush Katif. It is a vote for Israel’s soul, a fateful verdict on the nature of what Israeli society and morality have become, and what they wish to be.

Because deep down, we all know that if Gaza’s Jews were Palestinians, this would never be happening. Indeed, if a government in Israel arose which sought to put the question of evicting Arabs up to a vote, it would rightly be denounced as racist and immoral.

But when it comes to Jews, it seems that a double standard is too often applied.

Take, for example, the issue of prayer on the Temple Mount. Week in and week out, thousands of Palestinians stream to Jerusalem’s Old City for Friday prayers. Yet Jews who wish to do the same, tax-paying citizens of this country, who seek to exercise their basic right to freedom of worship, are subjected to all sorts of restrictions and limitations.

When Palestinians suspected of terrorism are placed into administrative detention, the defenders of freedom and human rights raise a hue and a cry, denouncing the government for resorting to extra-judicial means.

And yet, when the very same tool is used against a Jewish settler, an Israeli citizen ostensibly safeguarded by all the rights and protections that civil society affords him, the voices of concern suddenly fall silent.

The obsession in certain circles with ensuring Palestinian rights has inevitably led to a lack of resolve when it comes to protecting Jewish rights. Indeed, although the Left likes to assert that the “occupation” is corrupting Israel’s soul, the only thing that has truly been tarnished is Israel’s treatment of its own citizens.

And so, because Jews are not Palestinians, the government feels free to do things to them that it would never even consider doing to our foes.

It is time for this to change, before a further erosion in our fundamental rights as citizens takes place.

To begin with, the very idea of expelling Jews from their homes should be ostracized and removed from the political dialogue. It should be denounced and condemned and hurled aside with no less force than that with which the question of transferring Arabs has been sidelined.

And the notion that because Israel is a Jewish state somehow grants it the right to do things to Jews that would otherwise be denounced elsewhere has also got to go. If Jews were forbidden access to a synagogue in London, Paris or New York because it upset their Muslim neighbors, the outcry would be deafening, and justifiably so. Why, then, should it be any less forceful when it comes to the Temple Mount, in the heart of our ancient capital?

If a Jew were to be imprisoned without trial anywhere in the world, rallies and protests would be convened, petitions would be signed, and appeals would be sent to the US State Department.

But when an Israeli Jew is taken into detention, denied access to a lawyer or even the right to see the evidence against him, little if anything is done on his behalf. However odious his views, or even his actions, he too has the right to a fair trial, and we should expect nothing less from the Government of Israel.

In recent years, the media and others have done their best to demonize and delegitimize certain sectors of society, chief among them the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Whatever their failings might be, we must never forget that they are no less deserving of precisely the same liberties and protections as their brethren in Tel Aviv, Holon and Beersheba.

Despite living under siege from Palestinian terror, Israel has gone to great lengths to ensure that the rights and dignity of innocent Palestinians are not harmed. It must now do the same with regard to the Jews, and stop undercutting their freedoms.

The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under former premier Binyamin Net